Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Donald Trump is AlphaGo

Go is an Asian board game that's hard and beautiful and complex.

AlphaGo is a narrow superhuman intelligence. It had its Kasparov Moment when it beat Lee Sedol, a 9-dan professional go player, in four out of five matches.

Donald Trump is a a guy who's running for president.

And this is a padlock in a teacup

There are three things about AlphaGo that are particularly surprising or interesting to people:

(1) It plays weirdly.
(2) It wins by small margins, for no obvious reason.
(3) It kicks ass.

I want to talk briefly about these things, then other things.

(1) Weirdly

Let me excerpt a Wired article:

“That’s a very surprising move,” said one of the match’s English language commentators, who is himself a very talented Go player. Then the other chuckled and said: “I thought it was a mistake.” But perhaps no one was more surprised than Lee Sedol, who stood up and left the match room. “He had to go wash his face or something—just to recover from it,” said the first commentator.
Even after Lee Sedol returned to the table, he didn’t quite know what to do, spending nearly 15 minutes considering his next play. AlphaGo’s move didn’t seem to connect with what had come before. In essence, the machine was abandoning a group of stones . . . 
What's impressive to me is that when an AI is playing at a superhuman level, sometimes its moves look like blunders to us. It's a kind of Dunning Kruger thing. I love when people are impressed with my Spanish. People who don't actually speak Spanish, that is. Spaniards know I talk like a caveman. We can't really ascertain levels of skill that are beyond ours. Unbrilliant people with "sapiosexual" inclinations end up just dating talkative liars.

And AlphaGo's moves look like blunders. They make us say WTF.

I was trying to make the case to my friend Mike, recently, that Donald Trump is a genius (or he's using geniuses, or being used by geniuses). Mike laughed at me, and then thought he demolished my argument by pointing out that Trump made his racial comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel after the primaries. There were no racist crazymen who needed wooing. He'd already won the primary. Time to pivot.

"A genius wouldn't do that."

I'd riposte that I can't know what a genius would do.

(2) Small Margins

AlphaGo wins by small margins, but it wins consistently enough that Yudkowsky, at least, thinks it's not just barely winning.

Then why does AlphaGo not decide to win by gigantic crushing margins?

Well, the answer I've heard is that in some situations, keeping a smaller lead renders a larger probability of a win.

(3) Kicking Ass

I can play incomprehensible, outlandish go moves. I can win by small margins. I can't consistently beat grandmasters. And if I could, people would rightly respect me as a genius. . . I hope. . . .

Nobody, at all, ever, looked at AlphaGo's margins and its weird moves and said "LOL, what is this algo smoking! It's totally never going to win a game again. Look, that was obviously luck! It's on crack!"

But people do that with Trump.

And they do that with JarJar Binks.

Legend has it Binks was initially meant to be the dark Yoda -- dumb annoying muppet at first, but then later you realize he's a powerful demigod.

If you watch the first Star Wars episodes, you'll see Jar Jar literally stumbling around in battle and running into things, and in so doing accidentally killing bad guys.

You chalk it up to luck, somehow. Because he's so obviously dumb. In the case of Darth Jar Jar, at least, this is because he wants you to think that.

A serious conclusion

I would contend that it's impossible that Trump soundly defeated his Republican primary challengers and then went on to poll at near-parity with Hilary because he just happened to trip on all the right things and fall into it. I think it would be just as absurd to say that AlphaGo is a random-move maker that keeps having lucky days.

Trump seems insane because he is bringing game-changing superior strategy to to political race. Strategy we don't understand. I don't think for a second that the recent snafu, where Melania Trump apparently plagiarized parts of Michelle Obama's speech at the nominating convention, was an embarrassing accident. Smart plans are afoot. Even when the moves look crazy.

I don't know if Trump is brilliant. Maybe he just has brilliant guys. Someone is brilliant. . . 

A fanciful conclusion

 . . . or something is brilliant.

This is the part of the blog post I don't actually believe. This is just a good bedtime story to tell your kids if they're around 10-12 years old.

In artificial intelligence research people talk about a "technological singularity", or an intelligence take-off event where an AI begins to recursively improve itself, ultimately reaching unimaginable heights.

Most people who believe in the intelligence explosion think it will happen either really fast, like in the blink of an eye, or more slowly, like over 20 years. These two scenarios are called the "hard takeoff" and "soft takeoff."

Ben Goertzel, an AI researcher who is either completely nuts or brilliant, depending on whose table your sitting at, has proposed a third kind of takeoff. A "Semi-hard" takeoff, "where an AGI takes a few years to get from slightly subhuman level general intelligence to massively superhuman intelligence, and involved various human beings, systems and institutions in the process."

As an example, Goertzel imagines an AI making a lot of money on the stock market, moving to Azerbaijan, and designing nukes and propping up their economy in exchange for protection and resources.

I like to imagine Trump as the mouthpiece of a vastly superhuman intelligence who's seeing 20 moves ahead of the game, "blundering" its way to total conquest.

If he wins and diverts 1% of the GDP towards a strange new computing paradigm, I'll start to worry. I'll start to worry differently, that is.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Card Trick (part 1 of something)

If my friend Ashbey Dawn lands a face-to-face interview, she usually gets the job. I have absolutely no idea why.

I envy and despise the way she can quit jobs, and does, whenever she wants, completely assured that she can get another good one immediately. There are, though, some things beyond her reach. She can't get a face-to-face interview for everything.

Once her foot is in the door, it's total victory, but on occasion people fail to see how much she can offer their company before they've met her.

My cousin Levi has a problem that rhymes with Ashbey's. Sometimes he's in a bar. Sometimes there are girls. Girls can't always tell that you're a RuKwangali-speaking elite data scientist who plays the piano and gives no quarter in global AI competitions. People who know Levi as a sort of House M.D. crazy-brained badass are generally in awe of him. And yet, handing a girl an abbreviated resume at a bar somehow seems like it would backfire.

Paper maps of the Kavango and Levi's Ramsey Number notebooks.

I think it also might backfire for Ashbey if she sent a cover letter saying "please interview me, seriously, I'm hot."

People want to tell themselves that attraction is about chance and Disney Magic and coincidence. They also want to tell themselves that they hire based solely on qualifications. These things are false, but they get a lot truer if you bring them up. 

So the question becomes "How do I signal that I have qualities about which it is uncouth to send signals?"


"What is something high that I can reach for so my jacket lifts a bit and people catch site of the glock in my holster?"

Me and Levi brainstormed about this. People are terrible at this. You can try to force the conversation down weird alleys, "OH, there's salt on the table, THAT REMINDS ME, when I had dinner with the Pope there was salt then too, HAHA LOL."

(Here the author pauses his writing and tries to repress a thousand memories.)

We had the idea that you could give a girl a business card, so that she'd have your number. Then we thought that was too direct and creepy.

We finally became kind-of ok with the idea that you could pull out a business card, incidentally, as something to write on. "OH YEAH, um, lemme write it! The name of that band is The Eels."

But I still can't do it. Because it reeks of subterfuge and guile. Kant says you shouldn't use people as a means to an end that they're not included in, but my own foibles also require people to know what I'm up to. If I ever used a pick-up artist technique I'd end up being compelled to say "Oh, also, that was a pick-up artist technique."

Tell me why / tell me why / all these riddles and lies / and delicate threads of disguise / when the games that we play / they're so carefully staged / why do we still roll the dice

Oh the eternal autistic lament.

We're designed capitalizing on accidents, not planning, but in this post-hunter-gatherer information-centric world, that thinking is SO outdated and there are so much more efficient ways of getting things, right?

--To be continued.--

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A song I wrote. Muslims in Space.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cultural Appropriation / The Internet Was Mine First

I have a lot of anti-capitalist bleeding heart idealistic friends, and I like them.

I'd have to say I'm one of them, if I'm one of anything. But sometimes they're dumb. A dumb thing they love right now is the idea of "cultural appropriation."

My girlfriend is Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, so now I want her to rock this at work.

The idea is that you shouldn't wear an indian headdress if you're a drunk white kid at a music festival, because that's stealing. You actually shouldn't wear shirts with Native American designs on them if you're not a Native American. And you shouldn't rap if you're not black. 

The thinking goes, I think, that the people who created these motifs and artforms should be the ones who get to use them, and the ones in charge of what they mean to everyone. 

This is utterly ridiculous, and would halt entirely the gears of human thought and progress if taken to its logical conclusion.

I smoke tobacco -- a native american plant with ritual and symbolic importance. I drink green tea, which was likewise significant for the Japanese. Words for Roman gods are the words for my elements and planets. Writing itself was probably born in some highly specified ritual context. There is nothing I do that isn't ripping off and remixing and torturing old traditions, and you're in the same boat. 

Especially if you're using the internet.

I remember when it was just us. The pioneers. I would dial in at 300 BPS and hit up newsgroups that would load so slowly you could watch the individual letters get printed to the screen.

Ours was a deliberately fostered culture of science and free inquiry. Of ideas having sex. Utter promiscuity of information.

But I feel, lately, like our cultural and its artifacts have been . . . appropriated. People are using the internet, built on the backbone of open source "please steal this idea" code, and using it to promote an agenda of weird ethnically-bound memetic property rights.

It's offensive to me.

And if we're going to argue about appropriation, you can send me your thoughts about it on paper.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Alien Possession: A Stoic Mind Hack

There is a race of aliens, far far away, which are able to travel great distances instantaneously, but only in a clumsy and dangerous way.

The only way they know of to surmount the speed of light is to leave their physical bodies behind. They have visited earth, and other worlds, by parachuting the minds of their explorers into our bodies.

But when these intrepid explorers arrive, they are faced with a great danger. They come into our minds keeping all of our memories and chemical processes, to the frequent result that they are overwhelmed by our narratives and tasks, and forget their own. More often than not they forget their missions, and live out their lives as the people whom they had intended to only temporarily inhabit.

The above is as good as true. Your consciousness, this moment, is not bound to the resentments, plans, and prides you had the moment before. You may as well be a new person, inhabiting the body of [Your Body's Name Here]. In fact, depending on our definitions of "you" and "self", we could argue that you certainly are. 

That is not your ex-wife. That's not your job. Those aren't your beliefs, and you don't need to hold to them. That's not your anger. Don't get distracted. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Fiat currency is not permissable for Muslims. Bitcoin is.

I am definitely not an Islamic jurist. But I've probably logged a few hundred hours of conversation with pretty savvy Muslims. I teach English as a Second Language, and I've come to believe that most money is haram (forbidden), even if the average savvy Muslim (just like the average savvy non-Muslim) doesn't understand the global monetary system well enough to be offended by it.

If you ask a Muslim student (well, at least my Muslim students), there are no Muslim governments on earth. My Muslim students look down on all the "Muslim" kings and presidents of the current Arab world, saying they have all given into a form of capitalism that is strictly forbidden by Islam.

"Riba", or interest, is their key complaint. A Jordanian/Emirati student of mine has told me stories of the boom-bust cycles in Dubai, entailing speculation-unto-insanity and consequent tricky government intervention that even a jaded American would gasp at, and he blamed it on the greedy monarchs abandoning the will of Allah for personal gain.

Apparently, Islam does not permit interest. This is why you find "Islamic Banks" in London.

These banks cater to traditional Muslims by figuring out ways to serve their customers without charging interest. They will, for example, construe a loan as an investment in a business, wherein the bank possesses a non-controlling stake. This way a businessman can receive capital to expand his business, and the bank can (on average) profit, without reckoning things according to the time value of money.

This is halal (permissible).

Here's the problem, as I see it:

While the Islamic Bank of Britain offers no-interest loans to its observant customers, it still offers these loans denominated in British pounds. Where do these pounds come from? The Bank of England. At an interest rate of 0.5%.

Now the Muslim observant usually don't take their due diligence so far as understanding the horrifyingly obfuscated realm of monetary policy, just as some vegetarians eat skittles without asking where the gelatin comes from. To understand the whole world of human events that enmeshes you is an inhumanly difficult thing these days, and Allah knows what Congolese wars I've supported with the occasional unwitting grocery store purchase.

But if we were to do our inhuman feat of diligence, and examine all things, I think that we would find bitcoin to be the leading, most stable halal currency the world has got right now.

And that's something that I think bitcoin adopters and banking-aware Muslims should be telling their friends.

High Communion/Low Complaint Relationships

There's a Christian dude, I don't know how I found him, who's a professor at Texas Christian University and a thoughtful writer. When I found his blog, I had stumbled across a brilliant article where he was contrasting Rousseau and Hobbes and saying that parents' breastfeeding behaviours were are a good proxy for whether they believed man is a beast that needed taming or man is a pure and perfect thing that gets fucked up when we bend it out of its nature.

Anyways, another great idea that Professor Richard Beck had is that of "Winter Christians". Beck believes that a 1-dimensional spectrum between the extremes of "totally faithful" and "totally faithless" is oversimplistic. He contrives a two-dimensional graph, with one axis indicating a person's level of communion, and the other axis showing their level of complaint. Now, Beck reasons, we have a model that can adequately describe himself and King David as "Winter Christians", being people who are obedient to God and in love with him, but also wrestle with everything and bitch a lot.

I would fall squarely in the bottom rightmost corner. I have zero communion with God, and high complaint. I'm an atheist.

As such, I'd like to scandalously appropriate Mr. Beck's model to talk about something he didn't mean it for: having sex with multiple women.

I have two girlfriends. I have my wife, Megan, and my other girlfriend Wrae. Wrae and Megan are both amazing. They also both see through my shit. They're not bedazzled by me, or googly-eyed. We have talks about our needs. They push back. They see me as an equal. We wrestle and resent. Plus WOW we love.

I was talking to Wrae about how what I want now is a third woman who's really easy going. I want a really easy fun relationship. Wrae said there are no such things. There are. I've had them.

Now it may be said that super-high communion relationships will always have a hefty degree of complaint. That could be true, I don't know. I think Wrae would argue that. It could also be said that the throes of infatuation may produce a high communion/low complaint relationship for a moment, but that it's inherently unstable. Also possibly true.

But that's what I'm after. Call me.